Australia’s James Carew won the 2023 Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Kite Surfboard World Championship, giving him a third title. But right after his win last June, he suffered a broken leg and ligament damage when his kite lines broke during a jump and he landed badly in shallow water. Only now, after several surgeries, is he regaining his fitness. Just after his first comeback tow-in surf session at Nazaré, Portugal’s big wave spot, he talked to Ian MacKinnon about his long recovery, how his girlfriend GKA Freestyle world champion Bruna Kajiya helped him through the process, and his renewed focus for the coming season.
Question: You got the world title in Big Air Surfboard back in June. Looking back how do you feel about that now? Was it a big deal for you?
James Carew: Yeah, it’s a big deal. It was my third world title overall. It really locked into what my goals were and I was heading the right direction. But Tarifa for me was a bit of a mental one, because  was the first year that we had the world title up for grabs. I was the favourite there and I just really screwed it up. I lost pretty early on and I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do. So [last] year I went in there with a different mind, a different focus, and just took control. I reset myself.
Q: You got injured right after that. You had to pull out of the Kite-Surf tour. That must have been a bit bittersweet?
JC: Yes. I’m still not fine yet. I did it in June, so now it’s seven or eight months. But I have had surgery. I had ACL surgery on my knee. It’s about five months ago now. It’s been about five months of real rehab and recovery to get back.
My leg was broken and we didn’t know what was up. It’s been a pretty solid five months of work to get back. I’m in a spot where I could definitely go kiting. I’m in a really good spot. But I don’t need a push myself at the moment. It’s going to be in August. I’m just going make sure I do it properly.
Q: So, your first event is going to be as late as August? I didn’t understand that your your injury was really that bad. What actually happened?
JC: I did it when my lines broke when I fell. I was only 11 metres [high] or so, according to the measurements. From what I know, it was an average jump, or, you know, a little less. My lines snapped and where I landed was super-shallow, probably only knee-deep. I landed with my leg first because I thought it was deeper and hit the sand like a rock. I snapped my left fibula. I basically broke my ankle. I’d really bad bone bruises on my knee and my hip. Which wasn’t really too bad because, you know, broken bones heel pretty quick.
‘Worse than thought’
But then later on we found out I had problems with my knee. I’d done my ACL, my meniscus. It was worse than they originally thought. It started as a pretty easy broken leg and I thought, whatever, I’ll be back in two or three months. Then I needed to have two surgeries on my knee. It became quite a big injury. Actually, I just went for my first surf today on the surfboard. I’m in a really good spot now. It’s been a long road to get here, for sure, but I’m definitely coming out the other side of it. Now I’m feeling really good.
Q: All the work, the surgery, was that done in Portugal, or did you go home to Aus?
JC: I was in Spain when it happened. So, I went to Germany for my first surgery. I had an attempt at fixing my ACL, which didn’t work. My meniscus got fixed up a little bit. I had to go home to Australia. Then I got in contact with a doctor . . . in Austria who in the end fixed up my knee. And it’s been a good road back.
Q: Having to pull out of the Kite-Surf tour and miss out on going for a third successive world title, was that difficult?
JC: I wasn’t really worried about my injury. It was something I had to go through. I knew I’d be back. I knew I’d come back from it. I wasn’t really worried about that, but it was definitely hard not to be competing. There were some pretty good events last year, so in the beginning it was pretty hard because I was definitely going for another world title. I was in the running for it.
‘I needed it’
But it’s been a good experience, in a way, because it forced me to think about what I want, where I want to go, why I’m doing what I do. I would say, in a way, I kind of needed it. Yes, it was tough not to compete. I still want to compete. I still want to win. I’m definitely hungrier now, then I was then.
Q: In an interview with Bruna Kajiya, she said almost the same thing: that she was injured and that helped her step back and refocus a bit. Do you feel the same?
JC: Yes, 100 percent. It forces you to step back. You don’t have a choice. If you don’t accept what’s going on, it just makes you feel so much worse. You really just have turn it off, and be like, look, it’s not my time now. It made me think about other things and step back.
Being on tour full time and training full time, it takes a lot of hours and there are things that don’t get done. It’s a good chance to sort all those things out. So, in a way, it’s been good.
Q: Was Bruna able to help you with that process?
JC: Absolutely. 100 percent. She’s such a champion. She’s obviously been through hell with her knees; injuries in the past. She’s been there, been where I was, multiple times. She definitely helped me. Gave me some really good advice, and things like that.
Q: Your hope is to get back for the Kite-Surf tour this year for Sylt in August and complete the season?
JC: Yes, that’s the plan. I think I’m going to be 100 percent by August. I’ll probably be 100 percent before that. I probably could make it to Cape Verde [16-25 February, 2024], but I’m not going to go to an event that I’m not going to win. So, I’m planning to get back in August, in Sylt, and go for another world title.
interview: Ian MacKinnon
images: Samuel Cárdenas